Corvallis High School has been around since 1910. Even though the original building isn’t standing, tens of thousands of students have passed through the halls of CHS as Spartans. They have gone on to become physicists, football players, teachers, singers, and more.
Today we will be focusing on one alumni in particular, a CHS student who graduated in 1979. That student is Christopher Eisgruber, who was elected as the president of Princeton University in 2013.
After Eisgruber left Corvallis, he headed to Princeton for his undergraduate degree. As many new college students can attest, “college gives you an opportunity to explore the world, and visit places you’ve never set foot in before.” He had never visited New Jersey, where Princeton is located, until he flew there (straight out of PDX) to begin his first term. He recalled college, especially freshman year, as difficult but rewarding. “Freshman year was a tough year in many ways…[but] I came out of the year strong and expanded my horizons tremendously”, he said. Eisgruber wasn’t a stranger to success; at CHS his accomplishments were numerous. “One of the most singular and unique things I did was that I was part of the chess team at CHS”, he recalled. That chess team went on to win the 1979 U.S. National Championship with Eisgruber as the captain. “There was only one high school west of the Mississippi that had ever won”, he remembered. Indeed, that was the first and last time that CHS won the national championship. Their win was a win for everyone who has ever been told they couldn’t do something: Eisgruber added, “I don’t think that anyone else really believed that we could win the championship… But we went out and we believed in ourselves.”
Following high school and an BA magna cum laude in physics from Princeton, Eisgruber went on to clerk for United States Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. “I was lucky to go out into the world… My experience in life is that you meet lots of people from whom you can learn things”, he added. However, he met some of the people who impacted him the most when he was only in high school. His physics teacher, Pat Canan (who wrote the current CHS physics textbook), has continued to be a part of his life. Eisgruber noted, “[Pat] and I are still in touch; he came to my installation here as president of the university. I saw him in California within the past year.” His teachers, especially in Corvallis, have impacted his life in incredible ways: “the opportunity to learn from people who cared so much about students and offered so many different ways to think about the world was just a tremendous one… It was a tremendous community to grow up in… I thought it was a model of public education.” It changed his view on life and his career. In high school, “I could imagine being a physicist, I could imagine being a lawyer”, he said. But after years and years of education, it became clear that “I wanted to become a professor, if I could, and spend my own time teaching and writing about the questions that engage me most. That was the path that I eventually pursued.” Eisgruber went on to teach at New York University Law School for eleven years before returning to Princeton.
The interesting thing about Eisgruber is that he wasn’t some wealthy kid who went to a private boarding school and was trained to become who he is today. He was your typical high schooler: a Spartan on the chess team and school newspaper. It goes to show that you can never guess who will make it far in the world by what they do- only by who they are. As Eisgruber says, “You have to find things that engage you, explore your interests and abilities. That varies from person to person, but you always have to know what you care about, why you care about it, and you have to be willing to stand up for what you care about regardless of whether it’s popular or not.”
Although popularity in high school isn’t exactly like the typical teen movie, the social hierarchy still stands. At this point in our lives it might be hard to determine what matters or not, but take it from someone who knows: “You get out to your twentieth reunion and at that point all of the social cliques and social differences that existed when you were younger don’t seem to matter anymore. People talk across boundaries that might have seemed important when you were in high school that aren’t important now”, said Eisgruber. Throughout Eisgruber’s life, he has continued to be go above and beyond. That is something we can all learn from him: that no matter how humble your roots, hard work and ambition can drive you to success.